Living in a dream

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! SportsOctober 18, 2004

The Boston Red Sox got Mariano Rivera to blow a postseason save, and as historic of an occasion as that is, it wasn't even the most stunning development of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

That title goes to the Red Sox themselves, who after 35 innings of pathetic efforts, psyched-out play and completely outclassed competition against the New York Yankees, finally showed up in the ALCS to make it a 3-1 series with a dramatic 6-4 victory.

A history full of statistics will tell you it won't matter in the end. New York will win its 40th pennant, and Boston will wonder how or if they can ever beat the Yankees.

But for a couple innings as Sunday night turned to Monday morning, the Red Sox were the Red Sox – the team that made everyone at least consider that this year could be different.

Down a run in the ninth inning, with Rivera about to sweep them away to a new level of humiliation, here were the Red Sox playing small ball and getting another chance. Here were the dramatic hits. Here was the energy. Here was the swagger.

Here was Manny Ramirez hitting again. Here was David Ortiz going yard. Here was "Dirty Water" over the P.A. and a group hug at the plate.

There are no second places for the Red Sox, not after 86 years without a first. If nothing else comes from it, this won't change the disappointment. This won't forgive the failures of Games 1 through 3.

This won't ease the pain of losing to the Yankees.

But at least it makes everyone feel better about falling for this team. What Boston had done thus far in the series was so weak it stunned even the Yankees, who showed up looking for an October Classic and got a mid-April series with the Tigers.

"To be up 3-0," Joe Torre said Saturday after the Yankees hung 19 runs on the Sox, "yeah, I think we're surprised by the fact that we've done that."

This is why what the Red Sox did in this series was as crushing and disappointing to their rabid fan base as anything they've ever done. Ground balls through legs make for the best video, but nothing angers a Sox fan more than when their team can't even stay on the field with the Yankees.

And for all of the ridiculous Curse talk, the reality is for long stretches of history Boston didn't compete with New York. Not seriously at least.

New York is playing for its 40th World Series appearance since Boston last won it in 1918. Boston is playing for its fifth. In the last 86 years, New York has finished ahead of the Red Sox 68 times.

That is why this current group is so endearing to New Englanders.

Their fraternity-house rules, bizarre grooming and "idiot" persona stand in stark contrast with the Puritan roots of Boston. While workmanlike teams such as the Celtics of the 1980s and current Patriots are generally preferred, this group has become beloved, too.

The reason was simple. They didn't take crap from New York. They didn't fear the Yankees. They didn't mind fighting them.

They may not always win, but there was no inferiority complex.

And then came 35 innings of rolling over and playing dead that left Red Sox Nation feeling betrayed. At some level, they can deal with losing. They couldn't deal with not competing.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, with a sweep on the line and Rivera on the hill, of all times, here were the Red Sox.

Three innings later Ortiz was dancing toward the plate.

"I've always felt that momentum is easily changed in a short series," Torre said. "And there's not much you can do about it. We can't carry this baggage with us."

The Yankees have baggage now?

Game 5 is 5 p.m. ET in Fenway. Pedro Martinez will start. Rivera, after two full innings of work, will be limited. Perhaps the spark can start a fire at the plate.

And get this. If the Red Sox can get back to New York, Curt Schilling, his ankle apparently healthy again, will start Game 6, Willis Reed style.

"Schill is the starter," Terry Francona said. "We've just got to get there. As far as I'm concerned [the ankle is] not an issue."

Maybe nothing changes. Maybe everything changes.

"Anything can happen," Ortiz said. "This is a team that never gives up."

For 35 innings, it looked like they had. Then they finally showed up, and their fans, who had so much deserved it, could again at the very least dare to dream.